March 2021 Connection

We are Still Being the Church

As you’re reading this, you might be realizing that we are quickly approaching the one year mark of making the decision to cancel in-person gatherings at the church, of course including in-person worship. At that time, there was so much uncertainty around how the Coronavirus would impact our lives, for how long its impact would last, and what the future would hold for the church. As the year has gone on, some of our questions have been answered while still, others have not. Certainly, far more could be said (and has been said) about the pandemic’s impact, it seems a fair summary to say that this past year has been a distinct challenge for each one of us. As we see the staggering number of people who have lost their lives to COVID-19 and the countless others who have survived, and yet have had their lives and health forever affected, we take time to pause and grieve.
Stephanie and I have a love for the decades long-running show, “Saturday Night Live.” Not terribly long ago, there was a character played by Rachel Dratch named Debbie Downer. As her name might suggest, she had an annoyingly funny way of taking any moment and turning into a downer of a time. It would eventually get to the point that, despite the otherwise good circumstances, everyone else in the scene would eventually get so frustrated and “down” by her attitude that they’d all turn on one another until the only one left in the scene would be Debbie Downer, herself.
It seems like a silly comparison, but I think about just how much our attitudes and outlook are linked to our choices. You know, is the glass half full or half empty? Is the forecast partly cloudy or partly sunny? Our outlook on the world and our circumstances matters.
And so, we might be tempted to look at this past year and only see that its been a year since we last sat in pews together. As the one writing this letter, I grieve that I’ve yet to sit in the pews with you, at all. And that grief is real, acknowledged and needs not be dismissed! We might also be tempted to review the year, and think only of the gatherings we missed, holidays that were non-traditional, and friendships that have been strained. Those things are true, as well. But it’s also important that we name, acknowledge, and refuse to dismiss all that is good! Here are some examples coming from the church:
  • Our online worship attendance, based on a formulation of 1.8 people per view on either Facebook or YouTube means that there have been services where we’ve estimated approximately 500+ people worshiping with us. Most services are somewhere around 300 people “attending”!
  • We are currently working on the necessary technical infrastructure to be able to continue live streaming worship once we are able to safely regather indoors so that we can maintain a strong online presence.
  •  With our online presence, including daily devotionals, Wednesday Dinners, etc., we have been able to connect with people from all over the country (even one view from Australia, if you can believe that!)
  • At the time of writing this, I have hosted 3 different Zoom Bible Studies, and we’ve discovered ways of connecting with folks who otherwise would not be able to commute to church if we were only meeting in person.
  • Despite fear of financial hardship (please note that it hasn’t been easy by any means), your pledges have continued to roll in, reflecting your generosity, and the Finance Committee is now working with a balanced 2021 budget!
  • The Finance Committee was also able to pay 100% of our ministry shares as part of our connectional ministry with the Michigan Conference of the UMC! Additionally, our Outreach and Missions team accomplished amazing goals in our mission giving!
  • On March 6th, I will be holding a New Member Class over Zoom, and will be meeting with nearly a dozen perspective new members to the church.
  • In the next few months, we’ll be welcoming two little ones into the family of God through the sacrament of baptism.
  • Our Christmas Eve worship services in the parking lot made it possible for us to travel to Bethlehem and the entrance of the stable where we celebrated the birth of Christ! The drive-in environment was a pleasant experience for many!
  • Our youth groups and their leaders have continued to engage middle and high school youth through zoom and safe outdoor gatherings (sledding, anyone?).
  • Our church’s J.A.M.-aged children have been cared for via deliveries of goods and other fun stuff to their homes, as well as digital content created just for them!
You see, the intent of this list is not to diminish the hurt and loss that has taken place over this past year. But, what it is, is permission to enter into the Debbie Downer sketches and remain determined and resolved to stay positive and confident in God’s presence and guidance through this storm. In other words, its an invitation to remember that nothing during the past 365 days has had the power to keep us from being the church!
As we look forward, this resolve will need to be a permanent part of who we are. Good news greets us as we discover that positive COVID-19 cases are slowly decreasing, as is hospital occupancy! This is good news, indeed! What we know is that this is a result of a number of things: we are far enough removed from holidays that the impact of those surges is waning. We’re also now able to vaccinate our frontline medical staff, other frontline workers, and some of those who are most vulnerable to the Coronavirus, which will also have a meaningful impact as time goes on! Though, perhaps the greatest reason for this decrease is that many are remaining vigilant, safe, and refraining from unnecessary gatherings. Even with masks and 6 feet of distance which can help mitigate the spread, in-person gatherings still remain the greatest means of spreading the virus, especially by those who are asymptomatic or unaware of their symptom’s severity.
And so, for the meantime, we will continue to do our part as a church and refrain from in-person gatherings. This is neither out of fear or over reaction, but rather an action of love for our neighbor and faithfulness that God will see us through. Hopefully the need for such precautions will change sooner rather than later, and we’ll be able to resume in-person ministries and gatherings that we’ve been missing, but it will still take time, patience, and love for one another!
But in the meantime, let us become so resolved to remain in love with one another, patient with one another, an example of safety as we continue to thrive, and a beacon of what unprecedented ministry can look like if we simply believe in our God who is already guiding us.
What do you say?
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